My son is learning fast and it’s both fun to watch and bittersweet to see, as it means he’s growing up. Soon he’ll have to shed some of the more immature behavior that comes with toddler territory. Like being shameless.
Going to the bathroom in your pants or throwing tantrums or smearing food all over your face at every meal; that stuff just won’t fly when he’s older. But there are some things kids learn that maybe they shouldn’t.
Right now, at two years old, my son knows no shame. And I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
My two-year-old isn’t self-conscious about anything.
He doesn’t feel embarrassed if he does something stupid or makes a mistake or falls on his butt, and all of those things happen constantly. CONSTANTLY. Right now he’s taking a nap and I’m POSITIVE he’s doing it wrong, somehow. But he is never fazed.
He never looks around to make sure no one noticed that his fly is open or that he tripped on the way up the slide or that he spilled yogurt on his crotch. He doesn’t GAF!
In the adult world, such unfettered behavior is rare. We’ve all been beaten down by embarrassment; decorum; too much self-awareness. But not little kids! Nothing they do is is calculated, nothing is considered, and nothing is regretted.
For adults, it’s different, and in many cases necessarily so; no one gets ahead by suddenly doing twirls in the middle of the conference room. Eventually my son will get clued in to the fact that he looks goofy with his shirt on backwards or that he’s the only boy with a bow in his hair or that the dance he’s doing isn’t technically sound. But he won’t hear such judgment from me.
I want him to be as un-self-conscious as possible for as long as possible, to ignore the condescending masses and just be himself, as happily and blissfully unaware of what other people think as possible. I want him to hang onto that innocence. I know I didn’t.
One of my goals as a parent – and surely a major goal of most parents – is to instill my son with formidable self-confidence. And that requires teaching him to avoid being self-conscious. The problem is, I’ll have to lead by example.
One of my favorite quotes is from the movie Bull Durham: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.” As someone entirely too aware of himself, even when I’m not super high, that quote rings painfully true for me. With too much self-awareness comes insecurity and a lack of confidence. And as every single after-school special you’ve ever seen will tell you, confidence and self-esteem are pretty damn important things to have.
Fortunately, becoming a parent is about the best thing that can happen to someone who is too self-conscious, because your kids just won’t allow it. If my son wants me to put on a tutu and dance to “Call Me Maybe” with him, right in the middle of Home Depot, I’m gonna do it. Because I
don’t want to provoke a ridiculous temper tantrum that is 1000x more mortifying than doing a pirouette next to the 2x4s love him. And, frankly, it’s fun!
I have no idea when we lose this aspect of our innocence, but I know it happens, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of those terrible “dance like no one’s watching!” coffee mugs. We have to constantly remind ourselves – with every cup of coffee, apparently – to ignore our shame. I imagine it starts to happen as soon as we enter school and start spending more and more time around other kids. Suddenly the pressure to fit in mounts, and an increasing awareness of what is considered normal and not normal begins to develop. And that sucks.
I know from experience that once that awareness kicks in, it’s hard to shake. The adult world is not an easy place to live. It’s full of anxiety and insecurity and pressure and rules and judgment and it’s not always easy to ignore other people’s opinions. About the only times I’m completely uninhibited these days are when I’m hammered – or when I’m with my son. (Or both!)
I’m sure everyone on the internet has seen this hateful letter from a father to his gay son, and this eloquent response from a fellow blogger. Exhibit A is exactly what happens when you allow your own insecurities and self-consciousness to manifest as judgment, and exhibit B is exactly the kind of environment I want my son to grow up in.
I’ll never be ashamed of my son and he’ll know that he will forever be free to be himself around his parents, without judgment, always. I can’t promise him that he’ll never feel shame again but I can promise him that he won’t ever feel it in my house.
Unless I walk in on him masturbating because, come on, there’s just no way around that.